NASA’s JPL released a concept for a new sunflower-shaped spaceship that will take actual photographs of planets outside our solar system. While scientists have been able to detect planets for years, obtaining real photos hasn’t been possible due to the intense brightness of the stars those worlds orbit.
However, the flower-shaped “starshade” spacecraft is designed to fix that problem. The ship is actually a hybrid telescope/spaceship that has two essential parts: the flower portion, and a telescope portion that can detach and operate independently.
(Think of it as a far more expensive and cooler version of Sony’s QX Smart Lenses that uses your smartphone in conjunction with a powerful lens.) NASA’s PlanetQuest site explains that the flower portion will position itself between the telescope component and the star it’s observing to block out the light before reaching the mirrors.